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November 2015

 

 

Impressions of Snettisham

I think that Snettisham has to be one of my favourite places in the UK.  I can't think of anything finer than a few days at Snettisham when the tides are at their highest and the rising sea pushes the wading birds off the mud flats into the pits.  I'm beginning to make an annual pilgrimage of going to Snettisham for the November spring tides with Chris Gomersall.  This is one of the UK's most extraordinary spectacles.  50,000+ wading birds taking to the skies. Spectacular!

Imagine getting up before dawn so that you can walk along the coastal path with your camera bag, getting set up in the near-dark and waiting until the sun begins to light the sky and the birds begin to move from their night roosts. First of all, massive flocks of Pink-footed geese take to the skies in their V shaped formations.

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Pink footed geese, Knott, Brent geese, swans, lapwings, oyster catchers....so many different birds.  One of the brilliant things about being with Chris Gomersall is that he can recognise birds by the shape of the flocks or distant calls and flight patterns.  Tiny grey dots appear over the horizon and he confidently asserts that these first arrivals are the Pink-footed geese!  I would love to have that degree of knowledge and experience.  Instead, I just revel in the sights and the sounds of Snettisham and try to capture the essence of the dawn and early morning with my camera.

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Eventually, the Knott are forced off the mudflats by the incoming high tide and they swirl into the sky, forming huge flocks.  These clouds of Knott, in their tens of thousands, swirl and career around until eventually, they formation fly towards the famous gravel pits just behind the coastal path. They drop in to rest, wash and roost until the tide falls sufficiently for them to go back out onto the Wash.  How they know when to set off back to the Wash when they can't actually see the sea from where they are, is a mystery to me.  
 
In the huge storms of 2014, the famous hides at Snettisham washed away but there's a temporary shelter that gives a reasonable view of the famous pits.  Watching the Knott and the Oyster-catchers jostle for space on the shingle banks is one of my all time favourite sights.  It's impossible to imagine what 50,000 + small wading birds look like when they're all snuggled up together.  You just have to go and see if for yourself!
 
Once in the pits, the Knott mostly tuck their heads under their wings and have a rest but periodically they are disturbed by a passing bird of prey or a small group will take off, fly around over the gravel pits, and when they land, they jostle once more for position.  It's very difficult to describe this mass of tiny birds that potter around the shingle bank in almost perpetual motion.  It's the sight that I love the most and spend hours trying to capture.  Birds moving one way against birds moving the opposite direction.  Oyster catchers look dominant in the mass of Knott but then get swept off their feet and peck out at the Knott. An occasional Avocet or Plover can be seen in the midst of this swirling chaos.  I can't wait for the improved hides that the RSPB will one day get around to building.  I really want a closer view!  Here are far too many of this year's selection of swirling Knott and Oyster-catchers!  
 
Thank you for your excellent company Chris.  Same again in 2016 please!

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